Image: iStock / Jesussanz

Digital Prospects for Shopping Centers

Around 50 retail real estate industry experts met in Frankfurt for the second “innovation incubator.” The theme of the workshop hosted by the German facility services expert Wisag was “Digital prospects for shopping centers and retail properties.”

The event focused on how shopping centers can raise their profiles and improve security.

How can digital media help a shopping center raise its profile? What does a center need to be like in principle to compete with pure online retailing today and tomorrow? How can digitalization increase shopping center security in the future? These were the central questions asked in the innovation incubator.

Anna Kozina, Key Account Manager Shopping Center at Wisag, welcomed the workshop participants. Image: Wisag
Anna Kozina, Key Account Manager Shopping Center at Wisag, welcomed the workshop participants. Image: Wisag

Wisag launched the workshop in 2016. The aim of the event is to provide a platform for industry experts where they can speak, discuss innovations, provide incentives, and can look to the future together.

The participants included representatives of Jones Lang LaSalle GmbH, Union Investment Real Estate GmbH, Klépierre Management Deutschland GmbH, HBS Global Properties Germany GmbH, and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, among others.

Distinctive profile through digital communication

“Customers increasingly interact with malls as if they were actual people,” said Dieter Sawatzki, CEO of Sawatzki Mühlenbruch GmbH, which specializes in digital retail communication.

Whether via the website, an app, terminals at the mall, or social media, centers and customers can communicate with each other via several digital channels.

The centers have the opportunity to take up topics from within and outside of the shopping world humanely, empathetically, and sympathetically—and they can collect further valuable customer data and useful feedback. In general, immediate reactions, both in writing and through concrete (improvement) efforts, show customers that they’re being taken seriously.

Centers can thus develop gradually into “personalities” and become part of customers’ lives. This generates an emotional attachment to the center, which significantly increases the number of visitors and their length of stay.

“All the participants were certain that digital communication cannot make up for the lack of a ‘brand profile,’ however. Rather, such communication must build on and support an existing profile to strengthen that profile and retain customers,” said Anna Kozina, Key Account Manager Shopping Center at Wisag Facility Management Holding.

After all, communication lives from content, and both the real and virtual center have to offer it. But what does a center need beyond the link with the virtual world to compete with online retail? What does the “base composition” that can or must be strengthened through digital communication have to look like in the future?

The innovation incubator was received enthusiastically once again in 2017. Bennet van Well, of the consulting company Metaplan, moderated the event. Image: Wisag
The innovation incubator was received enthusiastically once again in 2017. Bennet van Well, of the consulting company Metaplan, moderated the event. Image: Wisag

Full-service world as a platform

“Shopping centers have to bring customers’ life and work together even more consistently than they do today,” Kozina summed up the discussion results. “Enterprises like Wisag that are in the retail industry cannot regard centers as mere shopping worlds anymore.”

The shopping center of the future is an integral part of the built-up environment, not an island in an empty sea. It cooperates with existing retail literally as a neighbor and is of course also perfectly connected. Customers can not only make purchases of any kind there, but also go to the hairdresser, shoemaker, or the cleaners—and they can always work flexibly in a quiet place. They can visit the center’s gym and cinema, a stylish bar, or a doctor’s office.

There’s even a cozy place for a quick midday lunch rather than a train-station-style food court. This diversity is complemented by an overall extremely high quality of stay and great events and activities in the center.

Finally, customers can wash the car on their lunch breaks or while shopping and leave the kids in the provided daycare facility—while always being able to have everything they’ve purchased gift-wrapped if they wish and brought to the car or even directly to their homes.

“The increasing desire for full service and a feel-good experience is connected to digitalization—a great opportunity for the facility services business” commented Kozina. As a service provider, you can see digitalization in every service area.

“Beyond the rising technology and related requirements, our goal remains always to keep our clients, the center, and its customers as people in view and to ensure the highest possible quality of all we offer—whether in safety, cleanliness, or service,” said Kozina on.

The workshop’s participants agreed: People will always remain an important part of a functioning security architecture. Image: Wisag
The workshop’s participants agreed: People will always remain an important part of a functioning security architecture.
Image: Wisag

Digital security architecture for shopping centers

Picture this: Camera systems that meticulously monitor entrances, can recognize the faces of “potential attackers,” and scan the crowds in centers so thoroughly that they can react in seconds to any deviation from the norm. A concept for such a comprehensive automated security system was also presented and discussed at the innovation incubator.

The idea: An automated security system based on data that are continuously collected and analyzed. The system primarily utilizes information produced at online and offline customer touch points: when making purchases, participating in loyalty programs, using applications, or based on camera images.

G2K GmbH, which has developed such a system, networks all this information, analyzes it with algorithms for patterns and relationships—and turns this into new “knowledge.” This should make predictions or recommendations for action possible in the future, for example with respect to typical patterns of movement in the center. If a mall’s customers suddenly started moving en masse in an unusual direction, a piece of luggage has been left for an unusually long time, or someone loiters unusually often in a location, the system can sound the alarm.

“We want to assemble the individual items for each center. We also determine who should intervene when and how,” said Karsten Neugebauer, CEO of G2K GmbH. In the best case, outside data could also be fed into the system in order, for example, to detect not only faces of known shoplifters, but also other people known to the police, as the concept’s developers are dependent on the support of the authorities.

Supplementing the bricks-and-mortar security concept

Due to current German law, the use of this proposed comprehensive security system is undoubtedly still a long way off. In any case, the innovation incubator’s participants were unanimous in their view that people will always remain an essential element within a functioning security architecture.

“Every center must begin with a tailored security concept that matches its specific requirements regarding its location, design, and individual history. Centers also need qualified personnel who can implement these concepts in everyday practice,” said Kozina. Digital solutions provide indispensable support in that.

“The sole aim of all security measures is to protect the customers and signal to the outside world that the center is safe,” said workshop participant Harald Ortner, CEO of HBB Hanseatische Betreuungs-and Beteiligungsgesellschaft mbH. That means that centers and service providers need to be on the cutting edge and have to use all the digital and other aids that are legally required and permitted to ensure optimal protection in each individual case.

Participants were enthusiastic about the innovation incubator again this year. “It is a really successful event. The blend of scientific papers, workshops, exchange of ideas, stimulating discussions, and views from different stakeholders in the retail real estate industry ensures that the innovation incubator is true to its name,” concluded participant Christoph Stoll, Team Leader Shopping Center Management Germany at JLL.



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